What is a vegetarian diet?
There are many reasons for choosingÂ a vegetarian diet â€“ these include concern for animal welfare and/or the enivronment, cultural, religious and health factors.Â Your â€˜whyâ€™ is likely to determine what type of vegetarian diet you follow.Â
Typically, a vegetarian diet excludes meat, poultry, game, fish and shellfish, as well as animal by-products such as gelatine. ItÂ may include some other animal productsÂ â€“ what you eatÂ will determine the type of vegetarian diet you follow.Â These can be summarised as:Â
- Lacto-ovo-vegetarian â€“ includes both dairy and eggs
- Lacto-vegetarian â€“ includes dairy foods only
- Ovo-vegetarian â€“ includes eggs only
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What are the health benefits of a vegetarian diet?
A well-balanced vegetarian diet which includes plenty of unprocessed grains, vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts and seeds may reap a number of health rewards. Studies showÂ predominantly plant-based diets may be aÂ healthier way to eat, with fewer reported cases ofÂ obesity,Â heart diseaseÂ andÂ type 2 diabetesÂ in non-meat eaters. Specifically, those withÂ high blood pressureÂ may benefit â€“Â studies showÂ a lower incidence of elevated blood pressure in those following aÂ vegetarian diet.
There may also be aÂ lower overall risk ofÂ cancer, even more so forÂ vegans.
Typically, a varied, appropriately planned vegetarian diet containsÂ less saturated fat and more folate, fibre and protective antioxidants including vitamins C, E and carotenoids. Furthermore, most vegetarians are likely to exceed the recommended five-a-day of fruit and vegetables. Eating more plant-based foods rich in phytonutrients may help protect against age-related conditions including those affecting the eye such asÂ cataractsÂ and age-related macular degeneration.Â
Plant-based diets areÂ also consideredÂ healthier for the environment. This is because they use fewer natural resources and as such are associated with less environmental damage.
How to ensure your vegetarian diet is balanced
There are numerous benefits to aÂ well-planned vegetarian diet, however, if your diet involves eating processed vegetarian food with high intakes of sugar, salt and fat combined with few vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, nuts and seeds,Â youâ€™re unlikely to be getting the nutrients you need.Â
Vegetarian diets may, if not appropriately planned, supplyÂ lower amounts of calcium, vitamins D and B12, protein and omega-3 essential fatty acids. Minerals such as zinc, iron and iodine also tend to less bio-available from plant foods, which means you may need to eat more of the relevant food sources to maintain appropriate levels.Â
Carefully choosing which foods to include, making used of fortified products like plant milks, breakfast cereals and spreads and eating a wide and varied mix of foods will go some way to ensuring your diet is well-balanced. Â
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How to eat a well-balanced vegetarian diet
- Include protein sources such as eggs, dairy or fortified plant alternatives, soya, pulses, beans, nuts and seeds.
- Eat a minimum of five portions of fruit and vegetables daily.
- Include wholegrain versions of bread, rice or pasta.
- Choose cold-pressed, unsaturated oils, where possible andÂ nuts and seeds including flax, chia and walnuts, as well as omega-3 enriched eggs.
- Include mineral-rich foods such as beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, leafy greens, fortified cereals and plant milks as well as wholegrains.
If youâ€™re concernedÂ your age, health or an existing medical condition will stop you obtaining the nutrients you need,Â speak to your GP or healthcare practitioner for further advice.Â